Mr. Billy Paul
“Listen – Am I Black Enough For You MP3″
The week is shaping up nicely, as I’ve been able to get a new edition of Funky16Corners Radio ready for Friday, as well as completing a guest mix for another blog that ought to be dropping very soon (details to follow, of course).
Back when I was a lad – as I’ve recounted in this space many a time – there were a lot of soul/funk songs that by virtue of my attachment to AM radio rooted themselves in my subconscious. One of these tunes was Billy Paul’s epic ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’, which was definitely hard to miss if you had your ear attached to a radio in 1972. Not only is it one of the all time great “cheating” songs, but one of the finest example of elegant, early 70’s Philly Soul, bringing Billy Paul both a platinum record, and a Grammy Award.
Paul (born, oddly enough Paul Williams) , who started out as a jazz singer and ended up working in a unique style that added blues and R&B to the mix had already recorded albums of Gamble and Neptune (both Gamble/Huff labels) before scoring with ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ on Philly International.
Alongside his biggest hit and some very nice covers of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and Carole King’s “It’s Too Late’ was the album’s funkiest track, today’s selection ‘Am I Black Enough For You’.
As recounted in John A. Jackson’s excellent ‘A House On Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul’, Paul had just had his big crossover success with ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’, the big question at Philadelphia International was which track from the LP ‘360 Degrees of Billy Paul’ to issue as the follow-up. Kenny Gamble (who co-wrote the tune with Leon Huff) had his heart set on releasing the politically heavy ‘Am I Black Enough For You’.
Despite pleas from Billy Paul not to issue the song as a single, and advice in the same direction from both Thom Bell and Phil Hurtt, Gamble seemed intent on using the next Billy Paul 45 to send a message to the listening public.
Unfortunately for all concerned, that message apparently turned out to be, “don’t buy any more Billy Paul records”, as the tune didn’t crack the Pop Hot 100 or the R&B Top 20, dissipating any heat generated by ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’.
The irony is that ‘Am I Black Enough For You’ may have been too heavy a message for an audience panting for another great make-out record, but is was still a great record, which under different circumstances should have been a much bigger success. It even garnered a cover version in Jamaica by the Chosen Few.
That the song is funky, danceable and tightly arranged is undeniable. The opening clavinet flourish (and repeated riff), as well as a great horn section, popping percussion and an excellent vocal by Paul made for a very solid tune, but also unfortunately the wrong record at the wrong time.
Though his career was hardly over, Billy Paul – who felt Gamble had torpedoed his career – was unable to capitalize on the success of ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’.
No matter, that ‘Am I Black Enough For You’ failed is more a reflection of the fickle nature of the pop audience than of the quality of the record.
Dig it, and I’ll see you all on Friday.